Art Professor Henry Adams curates, writes companion catalogue for Cleveland gallery exhibit

American art historian and Case Western Reserve University professor Henry Adams writes that “Cleveland artist Frank Wilcox (1887-1964) savored Paris in its pre-WWI days with intensity and eagerness as a cultural outsider—a Buckeye from Ohio.”

Adams has curated and written a companion catalogue for Tregoning Gallery’s exhibition, “A Buckeye in Paris: Frank Wilcox’s Paris and European Travels 1910-17.”  The Cleveland exhibition, open Oct. 19 to Dec. 1, of 55 paintings and sketches reflect Wilcox’s fresh and naïve view of Paris in a year that transformed the novice into a master painter.

For an artist growing up in the steely grey, industrial Cleveland, the Parisian people, vendors and relaxed casual lifestyle charmed the artist, with its vibrant and energetic commercial and social life that spilled into streets and overflowed riverbanks.

Through four seasons and several countryside trips, Wilcox amassed a volume of work, about 100 surviving works, that captured ordinary street and river life much like street photographs do today. “Every watercolor is amazingly fresh and accurate in its careful observation,” Adams said.

Wilcox visited art schools but decided to paint independently outdoors developing his own style. While modernism’s loud colors shouted from the canvas, Wilcox’s pallet was a muted mix of colors more reflective of a laborer’s earthy tones.

Adams attributes the artist’s comfort working en plein air to his outdoor summer workshops with his Cleveland School of the Art teacher Henry Keller, also a painter. Keller encouraged Wilcox to do the same in Paris. This freedom allowed Wilcox to produce as many as three sketches a day as opposed to one a week in a formal studio class.

Wilcox found energy in the street life that unfolded nearby his Left Bank room—and not far from his favorite place to paint, the Seine River. The river, Adams writes, was “a hive of outdoor activity.”

Much of Wilcox work started with a pencil drawing that he painted over, blending the two media.

He did attend occasional evening classes at the Academie Grande Chaumiere where he freely, without instructions, drew studio models.

According to Adams, one of Wilcox’s most striking French watercolors depicts a La Grande Chaumiere sketching class, with its young men and two young women with striking hats seriously working.

The painter—minimally equipped with three brushes, a paint box, pencils and a makeshift easel of the back of a chair—set up wherever he found something to sketch, mostly activities that most take for granted.

Wilcox’s talents emerged around the age of 3, when he drew a few lines on paper that resembled a goose, which he replicated time and again. By age 13, he took a drawing prize that required his first trip to the Cleveland School of Art (now the Cleveland Institute of Art) to receive it.  It would not be his last.

He attended the Cleveland School of Art from 1906-10 under such masters as Frederick Gottwald, Herman Matzen, Louis Rorimer, Horace Potter and Henry Keller.  He was exposed to a wide range of views from traditionalists to those accepting of the new modern art from Europe.

Even though his father was a successful attorney and his mother came from a farming family in nearby Brecksville, Ohio, the family accepted Wilcox’s artistic aspirations.

It was an opportune time for the arts in Cleveland, which was rich in the arts: art schools, commercial art and printing.  It was also home to the new Cleveland Museum of Art, which instituted The May Show to showcase local talent.  And Wilcox over the years became a regular with work accepted.

Returning home, he learned his work has been accepted into the prestigious Salon show, one several Americans to receive the high honor for their work.

The idea of teaching caught hold during his trip and became his career for 40 years until his death in 1964. Wilcox joined the Cleveland School of Art as a teacher.  Among his students were Lawrence Edwin Blazey, Charles E. Burchfield, Carl Gaertner and Paul Travis.

According to Adams, the artist’s style was cast during that first trip to Paris.

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